The first match day of the competition has already come to an end
The Euro 2016 has started and all groups have now played their first games. No major surprise in sight, apart from Austria's fall against Hungary and Italy's lesson to the very talented Belgian side. The host, France, took the lead in their group after a difficult opening match, that Premier League's wonder boy Dimitri Payet had to decide thanks to an amazing goal. The favourites have all had difficulties to enter the competition well but they all won. The public enjoyed a first week of competition with no incident on the pitch, even though few goals were scored and the games were all very tight.
Outside the pitch though, French police were quickly in difficulty especially before the England - Russia game, that saw Russian and English supporters - probably a few French people involved as well - fighting in Marseille, with a lot of injuries and chaos. We expect the tendency to go the other way round, with more chaos on the pitch in terms of show and chances, and less fuss in the stands. All in all, it was an interesting first week of football.
Group A (France[host], Switzerland, Albania, Romania)
Blaugrana: Jérémy Mathieu was initially part of the squad, but had to withdraw due to an injury. He was replaced by Lyon's Samuel Umtiti
France supposedly have it easy in their group, as they have no major threat to deal with, taking into account their World Cup win over Switzerland (5-2) in 2014. The Swiss team, that had trouble scoring against a very regrouped squad of Albania, and despite playing against 10 men for the most part, finally won to join France as group A leaders. The Frenchmen had to rely on one of the hottest players right now: Dimitri Payet. West Ham's number 27 did a great game, holding the French attacking line altogether, and compensating for Pogba and Griezmann's poor performances. France had to start their Euros with a win, Didier Deschamps can be satisfied, even though there is a lot of work to do in order to match their status of favourites. Romania, very well organised and fearless on the break, almost created the first major upset, but the physical advantage of the French got them the game. Albania on their part are ought to suffer in Marseille for the second game against Les Bleus. It seems like France - Switzerland could be the group's final for first and second place.
Group B (England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia)
No Blaugranas in this group
England should not underestimate their neighbours from Wales, and more importantly should not get ahead of themselves. Although they dominated their debut in the competition against Russia, Roy Hodgson's men conceded the draw in the stoppage time, on a header from one of the tournament's veterans: Vasili Berezutski (1-1). The young English team still has to find efficiency in order to avoid a major blow that would be getting knocked out in the group stage. Next game, against Wales, will tell more about England's real potential. Gareth Bale and his teammates will arrive full of confidence as they defeated Slovakia in their first game (2-1). The Real Madrid player scored on a free-kick and sent his team in the right direction. Slovakia equalised but Wales had the last say and claimed the 3 points. 3 crucial points that could qualify them for the round of 16. Slovakia, despite their offensive potential, could not score more than one goal and will have to beat Russia to keep hope. The Russians didn't offer the most impressive performance against England, but their merit was to never give up. Still a very uncertain group.
Group C (Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine)
Blaugrana: Marc-André Ter Stegen (Germany)
World Champions never die. Even when the football world is wondering whether the Germans will be able or not to show their strength and fight for a continental title, the NazionalMannschäft is still here. Joachim Löw, whose contribution to class has been in the heart of debates recently, managed to keep the style of his team that enabled Germany to lift the World Cup in Brazil. Not as impressive as in Rio, for their first game of the tournament, Özil's teammates found the goal twice, one of which was in the last minutes of the game, to seal the win (2-0). Ukraine had their moments, but when they had the momentum going, they proved to be very dangerous, and they would have scored without a great performance from Neuer.
Poland on their part, had to face a very hermetic block that is Northern Ireland. For their first participation ever in the Euros, the Northern Irish seemed a little timid, and had trouble keeping a hold of the ball. Poland though, had to wait the second half to score the winner, by Milik. The Germany - Poland game will be crucial but, even if they're not as impressive as expecter so far, the Germans have all it takes to win the group.
Group D (Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Turkey)
Blaugranas: Ivan Rakitic (Croatia), Arda Turan (Turkey), Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Spain were highly anticipated for this edition of the Euros in France, as they need to wash away the shame of the 2014 World Cup, of which they were knocked out after two losses to the Netherlands (1-5) and Chile (0-2). The holders of the trophy did everything they could to beat Czech Republic, very solid at the back and not inspired upfront, and they finally scored thanks to Piqué's header in the 87th minute. The Catalan hero did shut a lot of mouths, that focused too much on what Barça's centre-back could do outside the pitch more than on the pitch. Thanks to a great assist from Iniesta, he was able to put one in and free all Spanish fans that had come to Toulouse. Czech Republic will have to show more to get a shot at qualifying, because Croatia will be tough to beat. The Croatian players really dominated their game against Turkey, but were not able to score more than one goal, a wonder strike of Real Madrid's Luka Modric, that shined way more than his counterpart from Barça Ivan Rakitic.
Up against them, Arda Turan was completely out of it, even his coach admitted to it. Arda took his part of responsibility for the loss and asked for the fans' forgiveness. Enthusiast, the Turkish team lack a bit of quality and physical ability to be able to compete for the whole of the 90 minutes. Spain should be careful though, because this group is still undecided.
Group E (Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Republic of Ireland)
Blaugrana: Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium)
If we're being realistic and very cynical, we might ask: what has Belgium done to deserve the favours of the bookmakers? Knocked out of the 2014 World Cup in the quarter-finals, Marc WIlmots' men haven't quite proved to be the team that has been described in Europe as the next big thing. And it was only a surprise to some football fan to see Italy win their clash in the first matchday, at Lyon in front of 50,000 heated fans. Probably the most interesting game of this group stage, the Belgium - Italy was a fascinating duel between Belgium's offensive strike force and Italy's defensive expertise, with speed on the break and lethal efficiency in front of the goal. Antonio Conte's men have perfectly played the Belgians, and despite Marchisio and Verrati's absence, they were able to score twice, to put Belgium already in a difficult position.
Indeed, getting out of this group won't be nothing easy for Thomas Vermaelen's teammates. The Barça player had to adapt to a defensive line of three after Wilmots decided to put some more offensive threats on the pitch, to try and level the game. Vermaelen suffered and was helpless on both goals, even though he remained solid for the rest of the game. Now Belgium will face Ireland, a very seducing team that almost beat Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in the first game. The combination between old glories like Robbie Keane, Jonathan Walters or Shay Given, and younger talents like Hendrick, McCarthy and Hoolahan gave a hard time to the Swedes. Zlatan wasn't at his best and clearly the whole team suffered. Belgium are superior to those teams, but the disappointment is not too far. Caution will be necessary.
Groupe F (Austria, Portugal, Hungary, Iceland)
No Blaugranas in this group
Dominating the Qualifiers doesn't mean you will dominate the Euros. Austria knew that, but they still got surprised by Hungary, a team that went through the playoffs to win their spot in France's Euro 2016. They have already made the most of it, winning against the group's favourite (0-2). David Alaba and his teammates looked very nervous, as you would imagine entering a big competition like this. Next game against Portugal will be decisive and could lead to one of the two teams being knocked out. Even though the 4 best 3rd placed teams go through to the round of 16, the duel between those two big nations will be crucial.
Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates couldn't hold to the 1-0 advantage they had taken in their game against Iceland. Nani had concluded a very nice move from the Portuguese, rewarding the clear domination of Fernando Santos' men. The former Greece manager knows very well how teams can look powerless and hit hard on the counter. Iceland are very aware of their means, and they made the most of an opportunity to score the equaliser and claim their first point in the competition. Ronaldo will have to move on and avoid any more sour comments - he said Iceland had a 'small mentality' - in order to get back on tracks and offer Portugal a chance in the round of 16. The most surprising group so far.